What’s the right choice – emergency room, primary care, or urgent care?

ER vs. UCKnowing where to go in a time of illness or injury can be a difficult decision. However, there are options.


No one wants to deal with illness or injury, but health issues impact us all at one time or another. Whether it’s a chance encounter with poison ivy while on a camping trip or perhaps the neighbor’s cat scratched you unexpectedly, problems can arise. When these issues occur, it can be hard to know where to go for medical care. Questions abound. When should I go to the emergency room? Can I be seen quickly by my primary care doctor? When do you use an urgent care facility? The most important thing is to match the expertise to the situation. Cost and time are considerations. Since healthcare issues are complex, this article provides general guidance, but cannot provide a specific treatment plan.


Let’s start with the ER.

ERs are built for life-threatening conditions. Sometimes people wait too long hoping that there symptoms will subside. As Emergency Physicians, we have seen patients in the ER who should have come in sooner. While it is true that hospital ER room overuse is a problem in the US, most people are hesitant to go to the ER unless absolutely necessary. According to a 2013 Washington Post article, the cost of an ER visit is 40% higher than the average month’s rent. Visits can be lengthy and are dependent on what other emergencies are taking place. Given the cost and time, the hesitancy is understandable.

Primary Care

PCP offices are the best place for diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. For less severe illness or injury situations, primary care physician offices may also be an option. The physician knows the patient history and for that reason it is a great place to be seen or contacted by phone regarding an issue. However, it is not always possible to get an appointment quickly and few primary care offices offer extended hours or diagnostic tools to treat urgent care situations.

Urgent Care

Urgent Care facilities are the least understood option. This is further confused by the fact that not all urgent care centers are the same. Our practice, BetterMed Urgent Care is the only area urgent care staffed by Board Certified Emergency Physicians who treat every patient. The practice opened in November 2012 under the name Emergency Physician’s Immediate Care. While we are not an “ER,” the ER experience of our staff enables us to treat a wide range of pediatric and adult issues from everyday illnesses such as sinus or urinary tract infections to more severe situations such as broken bones, dehydration, dislocations, and stitches.

BetterMed Urgent Care has x-ray and ultrasound diagnostic tools that most primary care offices lack. The practice is passionate about exceptional customer service and is open 365 days a year from 8-9 weekdays and 8-8 weekends and an average visit is 45-minutes or less. This is a great option to get seen quickly before an issue gets worse and the expense is dramatically lower than a hospital ER visit.